14 Reasons for Poverty in Rural South Africa

[Please see followup post] Living in a rural African village for over a decade has taught me that poverty doesn’t come by accident. There is a reason rural South Africa is poor. Often, it stems from sin.

This does not mean the poor are always at fault. Ultimately, the Lord himself causes poverty (1Sm. 2:7; Dt. 8:17-18; Job 1:21). The poor will always exist on earth (Jn. 12:8). Jesus commended the godly church in Smyrna and they were very poor (Rev. 2:9). Many of those in deep poverty are honest, devout, and hardworking.

But the modern notion that Africa is poor because of colonialism or forced inequality is not true. Consider the following causes for poverty in rural South Africa.

  1. Tribal Ownership

In many African villages (like my own), the tribe or community owns the land, not individuals. This kind of communal ownership only traps the people into poverty because it gives the residents no incentive to improve the land and businesses no incentive to establish commerce. Others own the land.

“Do not steal” implies personal ownership. Thus, people must be able to own things. This is why graffiti and broken windows are common in public schools but not individual homes.

  1. Laziness

“Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty” (Pr. 20:13). In my village of rampant unemployment, it is difficult to find workers. Government grants don’t fix poverty because they often encourage indolence. “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Pr. 10:4).

Despite decades of massive foreign aid, Africa still blames others for her poverty. It’s time for Africa to take personal responsibility and put an end to bizarre excuses: “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets” (Pr. 22:13).

  1. Disinterest in Books

I’ve never seen a bookstore in a South African village, but I’ve seen bars, saloons, and taverns by the score. Prince Mashele wrote an article called “Blacks don’t read books—full stop.” He says: “A people who do not read books are bound to remain backward, not because they are unlucky, or because they were colonized.”

  1. Ubuntu

By Ubuntu I do not mean the genuine care Africans have for one another but the ubiquitous hodgepodge of interwoven homes. A boy lives with his uncle, a girl with her great granny and so forth.

But this often creates a safe asylum for lazy youth, especially young men. They need a father (not an auntie) to stand up and say: “Find a job or you don’t eat.” Paul “did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it” (2 Thess 3:8). He said: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (v. 10).

Ubuntu (and Hillary Clinton) says it takes a village to raise a child. Scripture says it takes a mother and father.

  1. The Prosperity Gospel

The PG’s solution to poverty is not to imitate the character of Proverbs. That path is too difficult, too self-denying. They instead promise shortcuts: sow a seed, pray for deliverance, expect your miracle. False professions abound for this apparent easy road to success (Ac. 8:18) but the results only brings more misery (1Tim. 6:10).

  1. Drunkenness

It is rare that I leave the neighboring village (and during the day, no less!) without seeing a drunkard stumbling down the road. Common is a Bible study interrupted by a local barfly. One of my neighbors stumbles home each weekend, though his family lives in a shack. “For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags” (Pr. 23:21).

  1. Corruption

A member of our church just lost his job because the manager stole the employee’s wages. Zimbabweans say the cause for the utter destitution in their country is fraud and dishonesty. Nearly every day brings a new corruption scandal in the South African newspapers. “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty” (Pr. 22:16).

  1. Broken Families

“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” (Pr. 13:22). This is difficult to do with so many teenage pregnancies and absentee dads. Father hunger in the village has more than just emotional ramifications. The economy dies too. “Children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children” (2Co. 12:14). Generation after generation in rural Africa are starting over financially, when they should be building upon the hard work of their fathers.

  1. Socialismthumb_Image 10-28-17 at 9.32 AM_1024

The promises by socialists (ANC) and communists (EFF) for poverty alleviation are empty. Their words are wind without rain. “Mere talk tends only to poverty” (Pr. 14:23). Be careful of those who want your money to help the poor. Judas voiced interest in poverty alleviation. But…”he said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief” (Jn. 12:6).

In fact, there has never been one real-world success story under the communist banner.

  1. Gambling

Poor villages are often characterized by an over-interest in worthless pursuits like get-rich-quick schemes, gambling, and lotteries. If I see a long line coming out of a grocery store in town, I know I’ve found the Lotto. Gambling among the ladies is huge in the village too. “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense” (Pr. 12:11).

  1. Pride

Many of the young men in the village who graduate from high school think they’ll move right to the managerial position at the bank. Dirty, grunt-work jobs are not an option for them. Paul wasn’t embarrassed to work with his hands (1Co. 4:12). But I have had countless job offers turned down in the village, only for that person to return home with nothing to do. While the Tekoites repaired the wall, “the nobles would not stoop to serve” (Neh. 3:5).

  1. Theft

Why would a business want to come to the village when even the most menial items are open to theft? Managers have to spend exorbitant money just to keep their products from walking away. Even our little egg business ended because thieves kept coming in the night and stealing the chickens. My neighbor lost his job because he got caught stealing. “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys” (Pr. 18:9).

  1. Immorality

The sad routine happens daily: girl gets pregnant, boy takes off, girl gets a grant, child is raised in poverty. Villagers should flee sexual immorality. One reason why: “[the immoral person’s] labors go to the house of a foreigner” (Pr. 5:10). How many men can’t get ahead financially because most of their paycheck goes to child support? “A companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth” (Pr. 29:3).

  1. Abortion

The elderly are forced to depend on the state for care, when the biblical pattern is that they depend on their children (Mk. 7:6-13). Where are the children? Thrown in the wastebasket by the millions.

For these moral reasons and more, rural South Africa is poor. If we love the poor and have compassion for those in Africa, we will tell them the truth. Only this will set them free (Jn. 8:32).


26 thoughts on “14 Reasons for Poverty in Rural South Africa

  1. Your list is spot on, and it shows the rare yet remarkable “tough love” that is necessary to actually rise out of poverty. We love our neighbors when we rejoice in the truth.

  2. Well written. The sad thing is that once you point any of these issues out, you are branded a racist and colonialist. The fool despises wisdom…

  3. Well researched and documented.The other problem is the absence of fathers figures. Fathers are either absent or lazing around in shebeens without proper care and direct involvement in the wellbeing of their children.

  4. Black people have been systmatically been destroyed over centuries around the world. This work was carried out mostly by white people. When you go to a black area anywhere in the world my white brothers know that for about 400 years your ancestors have undertaken to destroy the black man his women and children. When you see all the things you have described in your article know that these are the results of your ancestors destructive work. Many pastors address these issues but the white church will not address the inconsistencies of the past. Not long ago the white church watched as the black church suffered, you distanced yourselves from the struggle of blacks.

    Now it seems to me you are too quick to judge what you do not know. The bible speaks out against oppressing the poor. You should be addressing the injustices before you turn and blast the poor and struggling.

    • Hello, Sechaba, A few thoughts. First, consider that I have travelled 9,000 miles from my home to help these dear people. To say I am quick to judge what I “do not know” is not true–9,000 reasons and 11 years not true. As I type, my neighbors cook over an open fire. I suspect you live in an urban area, as most you interact in this kind of venue do. But I’ve chosen not to enjoy the ease of city life.
      Second, rather than making this a racial, black/white issue, why not just address the 14 points above? Are they true/false and why? I didn’t use terms like “black” or “white” except once and that was in quoting Mashele, a black leader in our country who was rebuking his own people.

      • I do admire you sacrifice of leaving your country, of living in the rurals here. I wish more black pastors from here would do the same as you are. I know its tough out there.

        I do live in an urban area. But I am from a rural village born and raised. I was there last week visiting my family. My father was a mine worker for many years during apartheid so was his father before him (and I know how much they struggled). I too am out here in the urban area to work.
        Later on in life my father started a business in our village and was able to send us to white schools. So I know the village and I know the urban area too. Because I know the struggle of blacks in both these places I can sympathise with the black people in the villages. I live in Soweto and as much as many black people are living better lives in the townships even more are trapped in poverty. But I will not judge these people because I understand what poverty is like having experienced it myself. I dont think you have been poverty stricken in your life. Nor have many preachers who come here from oversees.

        The root of Poverty in SA
        I struggled to understand why black people always had it so rough and white people had it so good. In my early 30’s now I understand a lot about the past of our country, Africa and the US. You need to understand the historical background before you can understand the status quo. And that brother is where you miss the mark. You started your research only 11 years ago. You need to go back to the 1600’s when slavery began in this country. Go back to the 1800’s when the struggle for land between black and white was at its height. Study the Apartheid reigime which started in 1940’s and continued till 1994. All you will find is how blacks were raped, killed, dispossessed of land and cattle, families torn apart, barred from owning land, barred from owning certain businesses and received little or no education in fact we were limited to only certain professions. There was work you were not allowed to do in this country as a black man or woman. In the workplace we were paid so little so that it could be difficult for a black man to provide for a family. Now if you apply these strict measures to a population of people over centuries and decades of time what do you think the outcome will be?
        Its a miracle of God that there are even black people who are rich, and who are livining well. Even those who are living above slightly above the poverty line are a miracle. And I thank God for this. The poor are there for us to preach to them to administer to their needs. The lost need our help not our judgement.

        Its going to take a long time to change the issues that you mentioned in your article. Many white people and some black say “just get over it already and stop complaining”. But 20 years will not change 400 years of oppression and social injustices. So brother I would go back and really do some digging before you make another article like this. In fact I would ask that you do not continue in this thinking until you actually have learned the facts of this country. Also I think I will make a video to address the points you have made in this video and I will share it with you.

        Lastly brother we cannot run away from the fact that this is a racial issue. We need to address it if there is going to be any moving forward between black and white. The white church needs to repent here in South Africa and in the US. I know some white churches have made the effort but I think it is not enough. For too long white people have been to quick to judge black society. Even to this day white people still dont understand us, and our societies because we are different from white society. It is because of this that a white person will end up misrepresenting black people when you report to your country. This has been happening since the colonial period. Blacks were savages and uneducated. During apartheid we were inferior, and foolish with smaller brains. Sadly even today stereo typing is still prevelent which I felt you used things like blacks are lazy, alcoholics etc.

      • Sechaba, if your purpose is to point out the evils of apartheid, you’ll find nothing but friendly agreement from this side. Apartheid was clearly wrong. Sinful. Evil. As a Christian, I hate racism because Scripture tells us to hate it. God is no respecter of persons and thus our family has given our lives to reach those rural villages that are often forgotten for the urban setting.
        But this does not alleviate the importance of taking personal responsibility. I’d encourage you to go through the list and ask: Is this true? Does tribal ownership foster economic growth? Is drunkenness common in South African villages? Abortion? Immorality? Corruption? Prosperity Gospel?
        And can we really blame any of the aforementioned items on regimes of the past?

    • Agree , I think what happened in the past it’s been put in some box somewhere, the state of black people didn’t just happen, it took 400 years of white oppression towards black people. I think the article has a lot of ignorance, and a quick jumping to proverbs for support. It would be wise as a white person to careful on the grounds you walking on due to the history of our country, you dealing with wounded people and your ancestors being the cause, or having a hand in this. Walk as though you walking on egg shells.

      • Hello Ernest, thanks for commenting.
        South Africa has among the highest AIDS rates in the world, and inevitably leads to poverty. At the secondary school in our village, how should I teach the students? (1) Sex outside of marriage is always wrong but if you stay pure you’ll almost never have to worry about AIDS, OR, (2) Practice safe sex, OR (3) Point to colonialism and the apartheid of the past?

  5. To be honest this is another disappointing article, especially from a professing believer. All the above-mentioned reasons are very skewed and used to defend white supremacist ideals. One always ought to be careful not to use the Bible wicked ideals. The Bible is God’s precious work designed for the building of the church and its supremacy and sufficiency is applicable to all races. It should be abused in the way you did here to propegate false and analysis of the masses of the South African nation that were brought this poverty by multigenerational oppression architected and perpetuated to advantage many white people in expense of multitudes of black people. This is still going on today and denialism of this realities will keep the status quo poverty in South the same, black people poor and white rich. Even the recent stats report showed the same result. The reversal of the evil result of white oppression in South Africa will never change until you acknowledge the impact the evil of supremacist white rule designed to advantage white people in expense of black people. By the way, the apartheid supremacists and architecture not only thought less of black people as you are in this article but also wrongly assumed majority of you reasons you mentioned about black in your article. They defended the oppression of black people using the Bible like you just did. I hope you do not and did not support the white supremacist system for your flawed analysis of reasons behind black people’s poverty are still receive much praises from racist supremacists. I hope the Lord Jesus would touch your heart and help you to repent of flawed analysis of people, take off this article and write a sincere apology to the black people of South Africa for you have maligned and hurt their character as racist supremacists rule of the past did. My other advise to you in the future is that you should ask black people of your analysis before publishing such a article. For the Bible should never be used to defend apartheid system and its devastating effects majority of black people live under. The church should not promote racism as you just did in your flawed analysis. For the sake of the glory of Christ Jesus, please repent and publicly apologise.

    • Of course apartheid was wrong. God shows no favorites based on skin color. I only wish I wasn’t the only white living in a poor village for a hundred square miles.
      But my overall point, which you have ignored, is that the issue is one of personal responsibility. How are sins in 2017 like killing a child in the womb, fornication, and a general disinterest in books the fault of colonials?
      This morning at daily Bible study in the village, I asked one of the young men what he thought caused so much poverty in this village. I offered no thoughts to sway him. He said: “disinterested fathers in their sons.” Biblically, there is a solution to this and that is what I aim to give.

  6. Excellent article, but this is not only South Africa, but it is Appalachia in the southeastern US. It is the intercity of Chicago, Detroit or a dozen other large cities. So it is not just a SA issue it’s a worldwide issue.

    • Yes, this is true wherever people refuse to take responsibility for their own shortcomings and sin and assume a vctim attitude.

  7. Well, I experienced apartheid firsthand and having scars from it. It was terribly bad. I have questions as to how it contributed to poverty today:

    1. Did apartheid forced my father to have many women as partners?
    2. Did apartheid forced my uncle to be an alcoholic?
    3. Is apartheid causing me not to think on how to fix my problem of poverty, has it somehow distorted my thinking?
    4. Is apartheid forcing me now to be a womanizer, a drug addict or a chronic gambler?
    5. Is apartheid forcing the working class to get into terrible debts beyond their salaries?
    6. Is apartheid causing corruption and looting that is going on today?

    I think in all these questions the root of the matter is sin (morality) more than apartheid. Apartheid was/is a terrible sin, but I refuse to say that it channels the morality of men. I can’t keep on teaching my children to lazy around and blame apartheid for their poverty. Given the same rights and equality (both backs and whites) I’m urging my black brothers to use the opportunities available in order to upgrade themselves.

    Remember: Developed countries were not build by an army of angels, but by people who put their thinking in great use and sacrifice their time in order to create wealth to their children and grandchildren.

    I thank God that I’m working hard for my children and grandchildren so that they should know that hard work coupled with honesty and hatred of sin rewards. Rom 12:2 Apostle Paul urges Roman believers to be controlled and be saturated by the Word of God in their mind so that their life should be distinguished from those of unbelievers.

  8. Dear Pastor, I had a chat with a brother who asked me to reflect in the tone of my reply to your article, and I must confess on hind sight it looks harsh and please forgive me for any offence caused by the harshness of my write up. I see the need for this public apology because I publicly wrote this.

  9. I really enjoyed your article. This really shows that colonialism is not to blame for their poverty. But this should also remind everyone else in the world, that poverty can happen anywhere that these steps exist.

  10. As I read this I think of the ways in which I have sinfully fallen in to the trap of almost all of the above sins. Pastor Paul I am encouraged to plea for God’s mercy and grace to do what I can’t to in myself to be right with God. Sin is shameful, godly sorrow is a blessing. Oh how may God grant these truth to many youman of our generations So that we may realise how foolish it is to love the things of this world.

    • The main problem with this article is that it excludes colonialism or forced inequality from the list when that should have been emphasized through out almost all the points. Since by their admittance sin is the root cause of poverty yet they leave out the evils of racisms out of the equation. By leaving this out, you as well just as the racist whites of that time use the bible dishonesty to oppress people’s minds and by not addressing the real issue, you add on to the reason why some black people despise the bible.

      • The builders in my village who are doing some work for me are wonderful, kind, hardworking men. We’re friends. But they are so addicted to alcohol that they can’t get ahead. Soon after payment, at least some of them will spend much of it on drink. How should I counsel them? (1) Colonialism of the past let you to this, but don’t be bitter, (2) Acknowledge your sin of drunkenness and turn to Christ who offers freedom and forgiveness.

  11. Dear Paul Schlehlein,

    First and foremost, I would like to commend you for the great work that you are doing in these South African rural villages. Secondly I am impressed that you showed so much interest in alleviating Africa to a point of writing this article. Thirdly thank you for responding “Yes” to the great commission of the Lord Jesus, i know your reward & legacy will be more celebrated in heaven.

    The very first statement of your article that says “But the modern notion that Africa is poor because of colonialism or forced inequality is not true.” is very offensive to any victim of colonialism. Every African social problem cannot be addressed in isolation of colonialism, you are likely to be correct of all the reasons you mentioned above but once you take colonialism out, all your points becomes meaningless.

    The Africa you see today is not the Africa you would be seeing if she was never subjected to colonialism. Africa was robbed independent evolution by colonialism,the true evolution of Africa can only be imagined.Her beautiful cultures, languages etc. have been destroyed, her people were forced to change their beautiful names that defines their identity.Without going too deep about what colonialism did to Africa, let me address the points you have raised.

    You will agree with me that all cultures (i’m not referring to spiritual sacrifices) and languages of the world were given to us by GOD and I am of a view that there is no language nor culture that is more important than the other.

    Tribal Ownership, I do not see tribal ownership as a reason for poverty in any way. The western culture of ownership is working for them its great but you are wrong to suggest that someone’s culture is the reason they are in poverty.

    Drunkenness, broken families and Immorality

    Did you know that the marginalized African fathers were forced to leave their families to go serve the white supremacist. In the context of South Africa, husbands were force to leave their wives and kids to stay in hostels (till this day we still have hostels and just research about it). Can you comprehend what that practice can do to the structure of the families. Kids growing up with an absent father, a mother having to play both role as father and mother. The God given responsibility of a father is very imperative in a child’s upbringing. The ramification of absent fathers is one terrible thing a community doesn’t want to see.For young boys, there is no one to validate their identity and to lead them into manhood. Consequently they resort to other things like drunkenness, drugs and many more in attempt to find their identity. The whole lot of things has occurred and continue to occur as a consequences of the past.

    Colonialism is one of the most terrible sin committed against GOD and the marginalized African people. So many wrong in their community comes as a consequence of what they were subjected to. The best approach to solving African problem will be to acknowledge the terrible ramification of colonialism and work together.


    • Ndaa, Faranani, Vho vuwa hani?
      Thanks for your thoughts. I’d encourage you to read the hyperlink in this article to see what I mean by “the modern notion…colonialism.” There I argue circumstances of the past do not preclude moral responsibility in the present.
      A few comments:
      First, I agree that the Africa we see today is not the way Africa would look had colonialism never come. Not only did colonialism bring roads, education, and endless examples of infrastructure, it brought the most important thing of all: the blessed gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Think how different Africa would look without these things. Did colonialism also bring with it sin, crimes and evil. Absolutely. But let us not ignore the former in hopes of proving the latter.
      Second, I may or may not agree with you regarding your statement “there is no language nor culture that is more important than the other.” If you mean all cultures have equal value before God, I certainly agree. All are made in the image of God. At the cross, Asians, Africans and Americans are on equal footing. But if you mean all cultures are equally good–a kind of multi-cultural egalitarianism–than I disagree. And if you’re a Christian, you can’t really believe this either.
      The greatness of a culture is directly proportional to its embrace of Christian principles. A culture influenced by Christianity for a thousands years will far surpass a culture influenced by, say, Islam for a thousand years. If not, then the gospel makes little difference. Would you rather live in Zambia or North Korea? The answer is so obvious because one culture has embraced Christ (in general) and the other atheism. The Philistines are extinct. Was their culture superior to the Jews?
      One more point. Colonialism had its warts but cannot be considered “one of the most terrible sins committed against God” because, if for no other reason, it also brought with it so much good.This cannot be said of post-1994 legalized abortion, which has brought NO good whatsoever. Massacring millions of precious black babies in South Africa–and worldwide abortion in general–is the greatest crime and genocide of our day.

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